It’s not good that colleges offer majors in nonsensical subjects, like women’s studies. Yes, I’ve been told why it’s worthwhile. No, it’s bullshit. But those of you who attend college for the purpose of feeling safe, validated and valued rather than to learn something have to live with yourselves. This isn’t about you. This is about law students.
Judge Kopf left a comment about what he would say if he taught law school.
If I taught at a law school (a very unlikely scenario), the first statement out of my mouth on the first day of class would be this:
“This is the only warning your will get from me. I herewith advise you, indeed I promise you, that I will offend you. My motivation is didactic, but you have not yet earned the intellectual, moral and ethical chops to question my motivation.. So, if you aren’t willing to be offended, get the fuck out my class now.”
He’s out of touch, but it’s not his fault. He’s just an Article III judge, so there’s no reason why he would understand what it means to be in the Academy. I learned the hard way.
I have fond memories of teaching a group in advanced cross-examination, where one young woman, after being critiqued, demanded to know why her approach wasn’t working. She took the view that her cross was brilliant and effective, though it was obvious to others in the group, and to me, that it was just awful. While some students can be given specific tips and pointers, every once in a while there is a kid who is just so utterly lacking in the fundamentals that she needs to start fresh. This was one of those times.
After coming up with some nonsensical positive, she was told that her approach was all wrong and she had to start fresh. She was outraged, and persistent in arguing that she did a fabulous job. She thought so, and that was all that mattered. Following Ellen’s instructions, I tried to be positive and constructive, rather than accurate and nip the problem in the bud. Eventually, I had to cut it off, as the student refused to let go.
From the perspective of instruction, this presented a problem. Her tenacity ate up a substantial amount of class time, at the expense of other students, and she was the only one in the room fascinated by herself. The others wanted to get on with their efforts, because they too were fascinated by themselves. A few in the class were quite good, and they were angry that the limited time we had with them was being squandered by one demanding classmate. Me too, as this was a fruitless discussion and the student was never going to accept the fact that she sucked.
But like Judge Kopf, I too was out of touch. I thought I was there to teach students how to try cases. That was the job when I started teaching at Cardozo. That was no longer the job.
Shortly after an instructor first arrives at Cardozo’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program, after settling in with a bagel and coffee, Ellen Yaroshefsky would give a speech about how to critique the students’ performance. It’s been the same speech for years: First, tell them something they did well. Give them praise. Then, when you tell them what they didn’t do so well, be gentle and constructive. End up on a positive note.
This is the new rule of teaching. Hurt no feeling.
At the time I heard the words, it didn’t register the way it should have, it was meant to. This wasn’t just a “give the kiddies a little tummy rub so they don’t start to cry.” This was “no matter what, we do not hurt anyone’s feelings. No. Matter. What.”
About seven years ago, I was asked if I wanted to come to flyover country to teach law school. I rather like the idea of teaching students, but I declined. I knew that I was not of the correct sensibility for the Academy anymore. I would haul off and say something like, “do you think a judge is going to listen to you whine about how he doesn’t value your opinion after he denies your client’s motion and tells you to move on?” And “do you think your client gives a damn if your feelings are hurt when it’s his fucking life on the line?”
And boom, I would be out. They would give me negative 27s on my ratings. They would write mean things on the whiteboard on my office door. They would stage a protest about my massive failure to appreciate the sensitivity of marginalized groups and demand my ouster. And the dean and faculty would agree unanimously that I was not a suitable teacher of law students anymore.
Neither would you be, Judge. Law school is no longer about creating lawyers, but validating the feelings of law students. The last line of your trigger warning gets it backward:
So, if you aren’t willing to avoid any possibility of offending, get the fuck out my class now.
And it would be the students telling this to you. There’s no law school for us anymore. There’s no law school for old men.
That the client will lose, will be denied effective representation, won’t matter. The only thing that will matter is that they feel good about themselves as they walk out the door.